International Velvet

They've extended their horizons further than the customary three chords and some home truths...

[a]Sleeper[/a]’s first law of female-fronted bands states that the charisma and mouth size of the singer shall be inversely proportional to that of the Sleeperblokes. Ergo, in any given song, the interest inspired by the singer’s words shall be inversely proportional to the interest inspired by the Sleeperblokes’ music.

Rarely have [a]Catatonia[/a] appeared to be an exception to this rule. Their inoffensive jangly indie pop and Cerys Matthews‘ cherubic croon have contrasted perfectly with her fearsome reputation as wild woman of the valleys and impeccably prickly lyrical style.

Plus ca change, it seems then, on the two singles taken off ‘International Velvet’ to date. ‘I Am The Mob’ is an amusing play on Cerys’ reputation while ‘Mulder And Scully’ is bound to prick up the ears of a million adolescent boys simply because of its title, but musically neither song has the tunes to raise itself out of generic ‘quite good’ territory.

Thank Christ, then, that here they’ve extended their horizons further than the customary three chords and some home truths. In fact, this album shows [a]Catatonia[/a] to be more versatile than you ever thought possible for such a white-bread guitar group. They even make an unprecedented and perilous attempt at bringing out reggae influences on the title track, and it somehow succeeds in adding to the schizophrenia of a song where the chorus goes, “Every day when I wake up I thank the Lord I’m Welsh”. Whatever gets you through the night, I guess, but to prove the point Cerys then sings a verse in her native tongue. Make of that what you will, but it’s an indication of an increasing willingness to experiment and confound expectations.

Likewise with ‘Why I Can’t Stand One Night Stands’, the title is the only simple sentiment you’ll find. Rather than the bolshy social comment you might expect, it’s a desolate, haunting pool of confused emotions, and all the more affecting for it.

‘Johnny Come Lately’ is even more intoxicating as a stab at dewy-eyed acoustic melancholy, and a grand piano on final track ‘My Selfish Gene’ is a masterstroke. Meanwhile the fact that those legendary nights out have developed a rough edge to Cerys‘ voice lends guts to out-and-out pop songs like ‘Road Rage’ and ‘I Am The Mob’.

So this must be Catatonia growing up, then. And successfully, for the most part. The only thing that lets them down is that when they return to their most natural guitar pop habitat, they’re at their least exciting.

They’ve shown they’ve got the trousers to back up the mouth. But we’re still waiting for the knockout punch.

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